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The Sweetest Running Swag

Going the distance means getting some goodies. And no, we aren’t talking just the sense of accomplishment you feel at the finish line. We are talking freebies, treasures, and swag—whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter when it’s free. At these races you will find the best, the worst, and some of the weirdest stuff in your swag bags.

Most Luxurious

Nike Women’s Marathon; San Francisco, California
Sorry guys, but the 15,000 runners who come together in April to take on the roads of San Fran are ladies only. Lottery-only entry makes the Nike Women’s Marathon even more exclusive. But you have to be selective when you are doling out Tiffany & Co. necklaces at the finish line by the hands of firefighters in tuxedos. The beginning is just as extravagant as the end, with pre-race festivities including a four-day expo chock full of free vendors giving out boutique and spa products. For all the ladies who are always multitasking, here is a way to pound the pavement while getting pampered. 

Smelliest

ORRC Garlic Festival 10K; North Plains, Oregon
The ORRC Garlic Festival 10K does feature some pretty vanilla race goodies. Finishers get a medal and can win running gear at the raffle. Winners get plaques and ribbons. But that’s where is the blandness ends. The ice cream at the finish line is garlic flavored. So is the celebratory beer. So is the shape of the medal. In the past, “secret” prizes for the winners have included giant bags of garlic bulbs. Don’t expect to get any kisses in the winner’s circle at this event. 

Most Indulgent

Hershey Half Marathon; Hershey, PA
Well if you are a running lover of dessert with a child-like love for theme parks, the Hershey Half is a dream come true. Along with chocolate-filled swag bags, a Chocolate Aid Station at mile 12, where volunteers hand out Reese’s and Special Dark like it’s well, candy. The finisher’s goodie bag includes two tickets to Hersheypark amusement park. After running 13.1 miles, and eating an equivalent amount in ounces of chocolate, we dare you to take a spin on the Sooperdooperlooper coaster. 

Most Random

London Marathon; London, England
You would think that a World Major marathon would be handing out some pretty legit stuff but in the past, London swag has been a little swag-less. Not only do they hand out one mish-mash, but two. The pre-race bag contains the common and expected nuts, nutrition bars, and leaflets. It’s post-race where things get really weird. That one includes everything from Mars Bars, a beer, a single prune, a sachet for a pasta bake, chewing gum, and a one-size fits all shirts the size of blankets. 

Best International

Le Marathon du Medoc; Bordeaux, France
With a 2014 theme of “The Countries of the World and Their Carnivals,” you can bet the Medoc is going to be a party. Before you even get to the start line, the marathon oraganizers a proper carbo-load, called “Soiree Mille-Pates,” complete with fine china and a twenty-piece band. The pre-race celebration seems to carry right through the race, where 23 different red and white wines are offered at drink stations along the course in the middle of France’s vineyards. Wine serves as hydration and gourmet foie gras, entrecote steak, pain au chocolat, fruit and oysters at pit stops serve as fuel. Put all this together you have yourself some world-class swag. After the race, and downing nearly six bottles of wine, winners are given their weight in even more wine. All finishers are rewarded with a rose, a kiss gym bag and a bottle of vintage Medoc to go. 

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Mo Farah's Favorite Shoe

Who doesn't love Mo Farah? The current Olympic and world champion in both the 5,000 and 10,000 ran a 2:08:21 in the 2014 London Marathon, coined the Mobot, and—thanks to his huge smile and wide eyes—inspired one of the most hilarious running tumblrs ever.

And now you can run in his shoes. 

Well, kind of. This weekend, Nike released the Air Zoom Pegasus 31, designed specifically with Farah's input. "They listen to [elite runners] and work with you," Farah told reporters at a Nike Zoom media event. "I pretty much wear a neutral shoe, and the Pegasus gives me what I need."

So what exactly does a world champion require? Keeping in mind that Farah is about five-foot five and 125 pounds, not a lot (although he does wear orthotics). He can get away with much less stability and cushion than many runners.* 

Which is why the Pegasus works well for Farah. The 31st iteration of the responsive, lightweight shoe is designed to be a neutral runner's go-to trainer for high-mileage running.

Mo Farah leads a warm up on Hayward Field.

"The Pegasus...just keeps getting better," Farah says. The improved upper is simple: snug mesh with subtle supportive layers that are built in (instead of stitched on) to reduce weight. The toe box can accommodate wide feet, or just cinch the laces for a more secure fit across narrow feet. 

Where this shoe gets just the slightest bit complicated is the sole: Basically, a pocket of pressurized tensile fibers (Nike's "Zoom Air" unit) in the heel collapses when you land; as you toe off, the fibers snap back and push your foot off the ground. The result is super responsive cushioning, which is particularly awesome if you're a heel striker.

"I loved that snappiness," Farah says, "combined with the soft cushioning and protection that I need for my 100-plus miles a week." 

Runners also feel that fast snap off the ground thanks to a 10-millimeter drop sole (lower than previous models) that incorporates a slight curve under the toes to propel through foot strike and toe off. A crash rail down lateral side further aids energy transfer through the toe. 

So what's not to love about this shoe? If you're a forefoot striker, don't even bother. The Peg doesn't do a whole lot to protect the ball of your foot. Same goes for overpronators. No major arch support here. And if you're looking for a shoe for both roads and trails, keep on looking. The mesh upper is basically a sieve for dust and dirt. A five-mile run on Pre's Trail was enough to make fresh-out-of-the-box shoes and socks absolutely filthy—even on a sunny and dry Eugene day.

But, if you're a neutral runner, possibly with a bit of a heel strike, this is your shoe. Even if you're not doing 100 miles a week.

Pegasus 31

Outsole of the Pegasus 31.

* If you're a fore-foot striker, try the Nike Air Zoom Elite tempo trainer, which has the air bag in the toe. Overpronators might try the Air Zoom Structure, which incorporates a medial post in addition to Zoom Air in the forefoot and more stability in the heel. Those seeking an even lighter shoe than the Pegasus might like the very minimal Air Zoom Streak racing flat, which is built on a midsole platform with Zoom Air in the heel. (Nike says the Streak has won more marathons than any other she in Nike history.) 

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Your Biggest Training Mistakes Demystified

Everyone knows U.S. speedskaters did not perform well in Sochi. The long track team failed to bring home any Olympic medals for the first time in 30 years, prompting U.S. Speedskating to investigate what went wrong.

The organization’s report, released earlier this month, blamed training errors for the poor showing Three national coaches left U.S. Speedskating after this year's Olympic games, including all-round coach Kip Carpenter, sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro, and short-track coach Stephen Gough. The high-performance director, Finn Halvorsen, resigned.*

So we asked the coach of 2010 and 2014 Olympian, Brian Hansen, and four-time Olympic speedskater herself, Nancy Swider-Peltz, to break down what happened so athletes from all sports can learn from speedskating’s mistakes.

Forget About Altitude

The problem: U.S. Speedskaters spent 10 days before the Olympics training at altitude in Collalbo, Italy, then left for Sochi two weeks before their first races. The idea behind altitude training is that it will make the body produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells that will improve an athlete’s endurance at sea level. But it can also have drawbacks.

“There is a fatiguing factor in dealing with altitude,” Swider-Peltz says. “You can never go super hard.” Also, it can be difficult to maximize altitude’s beneficial effects. “You have to be very calculated,” she says. That’s where it’s helpful to have a coach who can read your fatigue and adjust your training plan accordingly.

The fix: Athletes in shorter, technical sports might want to ditch the mountains. “I don’t think you have to train at altitude to be successful,” Swider-Peltz says. “It’s better to work on the things—the little nuances that can produce that tenth of a second—than to work so hard adjusting to altitude.”

Get Lazy to Stay Off Your Feet

The problem: “Two weeks before the first race, we were up at four or five in the morning to take a bus ride to Munich. Then we walked around for four or five hours, then we went to the BMW dinner and were up ‘till midnight,” Swider-Peltz says. “Then you get up at four o’clock in the morning and travel to Sochi where the transportation isn’t quite settled and you have to walk a lot.” As a result of the intense travel schedule, athletes were physically and mentally drained.

The fix: Athletes should be prepared to take a few hits before a race, Swider-Peltz says, whether that’s an unexpected late-night out, or a hitch in travel arrangements. But take too many hits right before a race, and your performance may suffer. So do your best to save the sightseeing and socializing for after your event.

Test Everything in Advance

The problem: As the Wall Street Journal reported, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating said, “the team erred in its decision not to use the brand-new Mach 39 suits in competition before the Olympics, as well as a skate polish that the team introduced on the eve of the Games.”

Swider-Peltz says U.S. athletes were asked to make decisions about the suits, skate polish, and kinesiology tape while at the outdoor track in Collalbo just before the Games. “But [the athletes] were cold, they had to change their technique to deal with the wind and the cold,” Swider-Peltz said, making it difficult for athletes to determine if they felt the new equipment was helpful or not. Asking the athletes to “to decide if something was good or different, or if it was the polish or the uniform” three weeks before the Games, she says, “messed with the athletes’ minds.”

The fix: “In my opinion, you should test things six weeks before to determine if they’re good or not good,” Swider-Peltz says. Once you’ve figured out your ideal equipment setup—and you know it’s quick, and comfortable—you’ll feel confident and fast on race day.

Bonus tip: Vet your coach and team

“If you’re going to be a part of a team, it’s just like a marriage,” Swider-Peltz says. “Make sure you wholeheartedly respect the leader. Also, make sure you like the other people on the team, because that is going to affect your ability to like what you’re doing. If you’re distracted by the other people, that’s going to be detrimental to your development.”

*Clarification: We updated the language of this paragraph to make it clear that Kip Carpenter, Ryan Shimabukuro, and Stephen Gough Shimabukuro left U.S. Speedskating but were not forced to resign.

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The 5 Best Beach Volleyball Beaches

The beach volleyball matches we’re used to watching at the Olympics are often played far from the ocean, on man-made courts surrounded by stadium seating (in the case of the 2012 London Games, approximately 4,000 tons of sand were trucked into the 15,000-person venue).

But beach volleyball is best played on, well, a beach. And no one knows the sand better than the athletes who bump, set, and spike their way around the AVP tournaments and FIVB international tour.

Olympic silver medalist April Ross grew up in Newport Beach, California, and has 31 career wins from tournaments spanning the globe. Her next big stop? Rio 2016 with partner Kerri Walsh Jennings. Twenty years after beach volleyball made its Olympic debut, the duo hopes to take home gold on what Ross deems one of her top-five favorite beaches in the world. Read on to find out why Brazil's capital city is so great—and where else Ross recommends getting a little sandy.

Karon Beach, Thailand 

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The best beach I've ever played on is Karon Beach in Phuket, Thailand. Minus the occasional ten-minute downpour it's generally hot and sunny, and the sand is perfectly deep and not too grainy. After we play, we always rinse off in the ocean, which is turquoise blue and about 70 degrees.

There is also plenty to do for cheap: parasailing, jet skiing, surfing, or you can just hang out and get a Thai massage on the beach. My favorite pastime, however, is renting a motorbike and cruising the coastline, looking for secluded, exotic beaches no one else has found yet. There is wilderness every where you look, green hills and palm trees surrounding each stretch of beach. 

Manhattan Beach, California

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Back on our side of the world is Manhattan Beach. This is one of my favorites for a few reasons. It's home to the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, which honors you with a plaque on the pier if you win. Walk to the end of the pier and you will see plaques with the names of some of the greatest players in the sport.

The area is also home to the legendary Manhattan Beach Six Man, which drew more than 100,000 people in its heyday to witness the absolute craziness of amateur and pro volleyball players who dressed up in elaborate costumes and fought for the Six Man tournament title.

Manhattan Beach is also easy on the eyes; definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California, with plenty of shopping and amazing places to eat.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro, duh. I've only played there once, but the atmosphere is unforgettable. There is so much energy; everyone is active, socializing, playing something, or in the water. Rio is also known for its beach volleyball history; Copacabana Beach is packed with people playing the game. Doesn't hurt that the backdrop is gorgeous, it's always warm, and you can walk up to the boardwalk for an authentic acai bowl.   

North Beach, Illinois

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Another one of my favorites is North Beach in Chicago. I like this one because of the mix of beach and city life. It's a preferred place among AVP players to play beach volleyball; in the summer it's warm, the water is refreshing, and the sand is great. I also like the fact that if you want a change of pace you can walk to one of the best shopping streets in the U.S.—Michigan Avenue—or grab the best deep-dish pizza on earth for lunch or dinner.  

Plage de Prado, France 

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I love France, so it's no surprise that I loved competing in Marseille at the Plage de Prado. In addition to the amazing breakfast—croissants!—our hotel served, Marseille had that relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere. Everyone seemed carefree and ready to enjoy themselves, whether it was while swimming, laying out, shopping, or having a cappuccino at one of the cafes on the beach. Plage de Prado was sunny but not too hot, and the water was clear with little coves perfect for floating and jumping off rocks after we played. The whole time I was there I felt like I was on the set of a movie. Also helps that we won the tournament.

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Why George Hincapie Has Hope for Cycling

George Hincapie was one of the peloton's most respected riders—and Lance's dominant domestique. But when he had to testify before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, he faced a brutal choice: Speak out about Lance and his own past or quit the sport altogether. In this extended interview, Hincapie reveals what it felt like to dish on Lance and why he chose to stop doping.

OUTSIDE: You were much more than a domestique, yet many fans of the sport use that word to describe you. How does that make you feel?
HINCAPIE: Being called a domestique is not a bad thing. A top domestique at the Pro Tour level is a very difficult job. It requires a ton of focus and coping with a lot of pressure. Your teammates rely on you every day. To be considered a good domestique is an honor for me.

You seem to excel most in helping others succeed. Did that hurt your own career?
I might have lost out on some successes because of that, but I also gained a lot of success by helping the team win races. Whether it was Lance or Kevin, Cadel or T.J., some of the best riders in the world today, I was able to help them succeed, and that was very gratifying to me.

Were you concerned about being unable to compete after you stopped doping?
When I made that decision, my concern was to get to as many people as possible in the peloton to stop doping and to stay in the sport for as long as possible. My initial concerns had nothing to do with results.

You mention that Floyd Landis mocked the peloton and had no intention of racing clean. How do you draw the line between the ethics of his doping and Lance’s? Or his doping and your own?
Really, there isn’t a line to draw. We were all wrong. We all crossed the line. Whether we did it later on in our careers, or longer than other people, or took more drugs than other people, if you cross the line you cross the line.

You take time to dismantle USADA's argument that the U.S. Postal Team had the most sophisticated doping program sport had ever seen. Why is that so important to address?
I think USADA did their job investigating our team. But I do feel that their statement was inaccurate. They didn’t investigate other teams as thoroughly as they investigated ours. I lived that life. I was there. I observed the riders around me. I observed the teams around me, and I saw many things that indicate that statement to be incorrect.

How helpful is it to focus on cycling's dirty past?
I feel like the focus should be on how much the sport has changed, how over the last seven, eight, nine years, riders have been winning races clean, and I witnessed that first-hand.

Did those who testified before USADA get off too easy and was Lance punished too severely?
That’s not a question for me to answer. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. It was very difficult for myself and my family. Hopefully, people will see what I’m doing for the sport now through my development team and through certain charities that I work with. I am still trying to promote this sport in a positive way, and I hope to have this sport in my life for the rest of my days.

What's it been like to view the sport from the outside?
Like I write in my book, I’ve seen a lot of change in cycling while I was still racing. I know cycling has suffered through the recent decision. Sponsorship is probably down, and people are probably hesitant to get back into the sport, but I hope through this book they'll see that it is truly a different sport now. The majority of the sport is clean now.

How far has cycling come in the fight on doping?
I think it’s come a long way. The culture of the riders has changed. It is no longer accepted.

More on George Hincapie and Lance Armstrong

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